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Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House to step down early

Sir Stephen House has announced his intention to step down as Chief Constable of Police Scotland by the end of the year - earlier than planned.

The move follows a series of high-profile incidents which saw the police chief come under growing pressure and facing calls to resign.

Sir Stephen, who had previously indicated he would not seek another police job when his contract ends in 2016, today brought the timescale for his departure forward to the end of 2015.

He told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in Stirling: "The dilemma is that as the leader of a national organisation that provides a vital public service 24 hours a day, every day of the year, there is never going to be a convenient time to move on.

"But after nearly 35 years as a police officer, with the last nine as a chief constable in Scotland, I believe the time is right for me to try and take up new challenges and also to allow the start of a process to recruit my successor."

Sir Stephen told the meeting: "I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise the contribution made to policing in Scotland by the (Scottish Police Authority) chair Vic Emery, in particular at the start of Police Scotland, and also the former cabinet secretary for justice Mr Kenny MacAskill.

"Their support and commitment at the inception and during the early years of Police Scotland was nothing short of extraordinary.

"Police Scotland has achieved a great deal already, including a new national approach to domestic abuse and sexual attack ... the ending of a postcode lottery approach to the provision of specialist services and an improved ability to deal with major incidents and events.

"There remains a lot to do, but knowing as I do the quality of our officers and staff I'm confident that the challenges will be met.

"The dedication and commitment of our people, I think as you find out as you learn more about policing, is truly outstanding and I know it will serve Scotland well in the future under a new chief constable."

He went on: "I'd like to take the opportunity also to pay proper tribute to the men and women of Police Scotland who deserve all the recognition and who deserve recognition from the public for all that they do.

"I'm immensely proud to be the first chief constable of Police Scotland and to lead the men and women in it, but for me the time has come to move on, to take up new opportunities."

Sir Stephen, the former chief constable of Strathclyde Police, oversaw the amalgamation of Scotland's eight regional police forces into the single national force, which came into being in April 2013.

But the force has been hit by a series of controversies since.

It came under fire following the M9 collision in July in which Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, died. The couple spent three days in their crashed car after a call to police was not properly logged, prompting Sir Stephen to issue an apology to their families.

The force has also faced criticism over issues such as its stop and search tactics and armed policing and officers are being investigated by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) over the death of 31-year-old Sheku Bayoh in custody.

Referring to the Sheku Bayoh and M9 cases earlier in today's meeting, Sir Stephen said: "What I want to say is that every death quite clearly is a tragedy for the families and the friends of the victims.

"I cannot begin to understand, I don't think anyone who is not affected by it directly can begin to understand, what these families are going through, and we don't pretend that we do, but what I can do is give my assurance on behalf of the organisation that we continue to repeat our condolences to all those affected by the tragedies."

He added: "I also want to give my sincere commitment that where mistakes have been made, we will learn from those mistakes, and any recommendations which will improve the performance of Police Scotland in relation to incidents like this will be taken on board without question."

Sir Stephen said there was "an understandable degree of frustration" that Police Scotland has not directly addressed the two incidents.

"I want to make it clear that we are not able under law to answer fully at this moment in time," he said.

"We would like to give full and frank answers to the questions that are quite legitimately being asked, but we are not able to do that because there are independent investigations being run by PIRC, by the Crown and by HMICS, and it would be highly inappropriate for us to offer responses while these investigations are still going on."

Sir Stephen is expected to step down from his post on December 1.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thanked him for his "years of dedicated service" with both Strathclyde Police and Police Scotland.

She said: "Strong policing has ensured recorded crime is at a 40-year low.

"Sir Stephen provided leadership at a crucial time and his strong focus on tackling violent crime made a major contribution to that achievement.

"I also recognise his powerful and long-standing focus on tackling domestic violence and sexual crime.

"At a time when we are celebrating a century of women in policing, his track record in encouraging and supporting women in the service should also be recognised.

"The policing of major events when Scotland was in the international spotlight such as last year's Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup was also exemplary.

"Reform of policing in Scotland was absolutely vital to sustain the policing upon which Scotland's communities depend and Sir Stephen's contribution to that was invaluable."

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